The ONE organ responsible for high blood pressure.
Is High Blood Pressure Considered Heart Disease?
High blood pressure is a condition that makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Over time, it can damage your arteries if it goes untreated. These effects, in turn, raise your risk of heart disease.
This overview will explain the connection between high blood pressure and heart disease. It will also go over the warning signs and symptoms of high blood pressure, how the condition is treated, and what can be done to prevent it.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Your heart contracts in order to pump blood out and through a web of vessels (arteries) that will carry it to different parts of your body. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) occurs when the force of the blood moving through your blood vessels is too high.
Blood should be able to flow unobstructed through your arteries. However, certain conditions and lifestyle choices can lead to narrowing of your arteries, blockages, and other factors that create resistance.
If this happens, your heart needs to use more force to push the blood through the arteries. This is what causes your blood pressure to go up.1
What Is Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure: Causes and Risk Factors
There are lots of reasons your blood pressure can increase—even momentarily. For example, excitement or exercise can give your blood pressure a temporary boost.
There are certain choices that you make or risk factors that you might have that can raise your blood pressure regularly, or even cause it to be in a high state permanently, too.2
Some examples of causes and risk factors for high blood pressure include:
- A family history of high blood pressure
- African American ethnicity
- Age over 55
- Being overweight
- Heavy alcohol use
- High-sodium and high-fat diet
- Lack of exercise
Is High Blood Pressure Considered Heart Disease?
High blood pressure is not heart disease on its own. However, having high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular complications and can weaken or damage your heart.
Hypertension is one cause of cardiovascular disease—a term that encompasses the heart and blood vessels.
When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood out to your body. Over time, this can strain the heart and lead to conditions such as:3
- Atrial fibrillation (irregular, often rapid heart rhythm)
- Heart failure (heart doesn’t pump enough blood)
- Heart valve disease (one or more of your heart valves works improperly)
- Acute aortic syndrome (several painful and potentially life-threatening conditions)
Having high blood pressure can also have a negative effect on parts of your body besides your heart.2 For example, high blood pressure contributes to your risk for:
- Kidney disease
- Stroke (lack of oxygen to the brain)
- Heart attack
- Vascular disease (abnormal condition of the arteries and veins)
- Dementia (conditions that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities)
- Vision damage
Normal Blood Pressure Levels
A blood pressure reading is taken using a cuff and a stethoscope or monitor. It produces two numbers, one stacked on top of the other.
The top number is called your systolic blood pressure. It is the force that your blood puts on your arteries with each beat of your heart. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, is the force on the walls of your arteries between beats when your heart is at rest.
A normal blood pressure reading is close to 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). If your reading is higher, it means that you have high blood pressure. However, high blood pressure can be at different levels, depending on how elevated the numbers are.12
The levels of high blood pressure are:
- Elevated/at risk: 120–129 systolic, 80 diastolic
- Stage 1 hypertension (mild): 130–139 systolic, 80–89 diastolic
- Stage 2 hypertension (moderate): 140–179 systolic, 90–119 diastolic
- Hypertensive crisis (emergency): 180 systolic and above, 120 diastolic and above
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease
For many people, high blood pressure happens and does not cause symptoms. High blood pressure is often dubbed "the silent killer" because it can cause serious health problems before you notice and have a chance to make changes that could lower it and reduce your risk of complications.
This process happens over time. Any symptoms that you may have can be subtle and might even be dismissed as being related to other health conditions.
As your high blood pressure continues, gets worse, and starts to lead to complications in other parts of your body, you will start to notice more symptoms as more damage occurs—particularly to your heart.4
Symptoms that can be warning signs of heart disease include:
- Chest pain
- Chest pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Leg pain
- Restlessness or anxiety
- Coughing or wheezing
- Swelling in your hands, legs, or feet
If you have these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor and discuss how to manage your blood pressure more effectively.
Warning Signs You Should Not Ignore
- Lose consciousness
- Become severely short of breath
- Have extreme chest pain
- Have slurred speech
- Experience sudden weakness
- Have a sudden and intense headache
Diagnosis and Treatment
High blood pressure is usually diagnosed by a healthcare provider during an in-person visit.
One elevated blood pressure reading does not necessarily mean you will be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Instead, your provider will track trends in your blood pressure measurements over time and watch to see if it stays high or improves.
If you have several high blood pressure readings, your doctor may ask you to make some lifestyle changes to help get it down to a normal range.1
Examples of lifestyle changes that may help lower your blood pressure include:
- Reducing sodium (salt) intake
- Reducing fats in your diet
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Controlling your stress
You will need to continue monitoring your blood pressure at home. You may also need to have blood work or other tests done to see if your high blood pressure has led to any complications.
If your blood pressure remains high despite making lifestyle changes, your doctor may want you to start taking one or more of the following medications.2
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, including Zestril (lisinopril), Vasotec (enalapril), or Capoten (captopril)
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), including Lopressor (metoprolol), Diovan (valsartan), or Cozaar (losartan)
- Calcium channel blockers, including Norvasc (amlodipine), Procardia (nifedipine), Cardizem (diltiazem)
- Diuretics, including Microzide (hydrocholorthiazide) and Lasix (furosemide)
Ways to Prevent Both Conditions
High blood pressure and heart disease cannot always be prevented. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as your family history, genetics, race, and age.
However, there are some measures that you can take to prevent high blood pressure and its negative health effects.1
Examples of steps you can take to improve your overall health include:
- Avoiding smoking, drug use, and heavy alcohol use
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
If you have a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease, it's important that you talk to your doctor about having regular health screenings.5 Together, you can make a plan to reduce your risk.
High blood pressure occurs when your heart has to pump blood with more force to move through your arteries. If it's not treated, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and other cardiovascular complications like a stroke.
The condition develops gradually over time. At first, you probably will not have any symptoms. However, as hypertension continues and causes damage to your heart and other organs, you will feel the effects of those complications.
While high blood pressure is not considered a heart disease on its own, having uncontrolled high blood pressure can have serious consequences for your heart, as well as the rest of your body.
High blood pressure is a potentially serious health condition that can develop without your knowing it. Be sure to see your doctor for regular health screenings, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease.
If you have high blood pressure know that while it's not considered a heart problem on its own, it can turn into one if left untreated. You can make lifestyle changes and talk to your doctor about medications that can control your blood pressure and get it down to normal levels.